[I] may be crazy but I'm the closest thing I have to a voice of reason.

23 March 2010

Exit Light

Welcome to Chapter 2 of The Movie Lovers. In Prelude you get the back-story of how I came to be caring for a dying man, what kind of life it was that led me to such a place.

Prelude, part 2

Like Jose, I was trained as a fiction writer, so it’s not unusual that I should try writing a novel; an impossible task, I might add. I don’t write fiction anymore. What I managed to accomplish was written and forgotten the year before Jose’s death, and so when I came across this bit of fiction while writing Jose’s story a decade later, I was surprised to see myself, the very self I had become during the intervening decade, a decade during which I had also become the same age as my main character, a woman who had just lost the person she loved most in the world:

I’m driving home in the dark after my father’s funeral.

I keep saying that. Reminding myself where I am. Explaining to no one why I’m hurtling west through the night air, radio blaring. For a week I haven’t slept, haven’t tasted the food I’ve eaten, haven’t taken a shit. The best I’ve felt was during the service when I sat next to my father’s sister, an aunt I barely remember, who let me cry and didn’t try to fix what can’t be fixed.

It’s Sunday, almost midnight, and home is five hours away. I have the window partway down, but the air is sticky and warm, as it has been since this afternoon when thunderheads rolled in, bringing summer lightning, low-rolling thunder, a full moon, and no rain. I’m speeding. My father always drove fast. I suppose the love of speed can be genetic, like the inclination to be strong willed or tender hearted. I’m doing ninety, foot pressed hard against the gas pedal. I don’t know how long -- or why -- I’ve been doing this, but my thigh and calf muscles are clenched and starting to tire. Metallica has just finished “Enter Sandman” -- though for me this song is and always was, simply, Exit Light -- and since this might be what drives my foot to the floor, when the first chord of the next song rings out, I ease off the gas. It’s a ballad, and declares itself so through the achingly pure, electric-acoustical guitar riffs that metal bands sound as an anthem to the quietly withheld pain underlying the energy, the anger, and the sheer heart-pounding noise their fans call music.

Headlights flash in my rearview mirror, and on the road ahead I see a dark spot the size of a child. A single guitar note strikes, I swerve left, and the dark spot turns, eyes flashing mirror-clear. In the illumination, I recognize a Great Horned Owl. Lights slash the rearview mirror and my eyes as behind me the car gathers speed and veers left to pass. I look ahead into the eyes of the owl. Two high notes sound; he spreads his wings angel-wide. Three low notes progress upward and the owl goes with them. The next chord wings him low over the passenger side of the windshield and roof of my car just as taillights swerve in front of me and recede into the future.

This instant lasts a lifetime. At the end of it I’m flying backward in the wake of the wind, transported into a hundred-thousand vibrating particles hovering together in the dark somewhere over southeastern Washington, listening to the moon sing.

I knew nothing of death when I wrote those words, and yet I had unwittingly described the very experience I would have a year later when Jose stopped breathing, a sensation of mind and body hovering somewhere between the nuclear and the sublime. All but one detail of that scene was true; even when I thought I was writing fiction, I had been recording life. My father isn’t dead, of course, he wasn’t dead when I wrote that opening scene to my would-be novel and he hasn’t died since, but he did die. He died when I was three. It happened the month before my birthday.

As fate would have it, my father died to me when Jose was born, in February of 1964. And when Jose died thirty years later, my father died all over again, buried memories surfacing like hungry ghosts. Haunted by my own forgotten past, I began to grieve for the first time, to mourn for what I had lost decades before my friendship with Jose had even begun.

It happened like this.

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